I recently spent a year budget backpacking Australia on a working holiday. I travelled down the East Coast, stopped for a bit to work on a farm, spent a few months working a bar in Melbourne, road tripped the Great Ocean Road and across the south coast, then did the rest of my farm work in a little rural southwest town.
There’s a lot of stuff that I learnt along the way: particularly that Australia is really bloody expensive. I am generally very good at budgeting, living cheaply and sacrificing luxuries for the sake of being able to travel for longer. But backpacking in Australia costs a lot: even I have struggled to maintain a reasonable spending structure here.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled an extensive list of all the wisdom I’ve learnt, for how to travel Australia cheaply during my trip. Some of them are place-specific, while others are more general. Follow these budget tips and you’ll save a bucketload on your Australia backpacking budget (and maybe you’ll be able to afford a meal out once in a while…)
General tips for backpacking Australia
#1 Australia Backpackers Facebook group: great general resource
Also a great boredom buster for idle Greyhound journeys! Similar to the city-specific groups, backpackers post all sorts on here. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye out as sometimes people need to get stuff sold quick (and cheap!) as they’re about to leave Oz.
#2 Join the Facebook group for wherever you are based – most big cities have a group!
On these groups you can find everything from lift shares, to cars for sale, to job offers and more. They’re easy to find if you type into the Facebook search bar, but just for a start check out the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane ones.
#3 Check out the notice boards in your area
Hostels and local shops will often have a notice board advertising opportunities in the local area. You could get (very) lucky if you pay attention to these! In Port Douglas, for example, we saw an advert wanting two people to go work on board a ship sailing round the Whitsundays for a few weeks. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. Things like house shares and flats for sale are often advertised on these boards as well, so if you’re in the market then keep a look out!
#4 Gumtree is a fantastic resource
This is true of Gumtree in the UK, but even more so here in Australia. Gumtree has everything: things for sale, job offers, and personal adverts. If you’re looking for work or a travel buddy, you can put up an ad yourself and see what responses you get!
#5 Speak to people!
People are definitely your greatest resource when travelling. Everyone will have had different experiences, tried different things, and travelled different routes. The best way to gain knowledge is to chat to everyone you meet. You can find out about off-the-beaten-path places to go, places to work, or good websites to use to your advantage on your trip. Speaking to people is how I found out most of the information in this guide!
#6 Don’t pay (much) for WiFi
Because the internet in Oz is generally pretty terrible, you’ll often have to pay for it in hostels. Or, it’ll be free and it won’t work very well. However, there are a couple of ways round this. McDonald’s has surprisingly fast wifi – just get a small snack and sit there as long as you like! (I’d recommend a Choc Top!). There are also quite often good public libraries around, which you don’t have to pay anything for!
Transport tips for backpacking in Australia
Thinking of road tripping? Check out my comprehensive guide right here.
#7 Get a Greyhound hop-on hop-off pass…
Greyhound buses can be found all over Australia, and they’re a very convenient way to travel. They’ve got free wifi (most of the time), air conditioning, and plus you don’t need to worry if you’re hungover because you’re not driving! Depending on the season you can get a ticket that works out quite cheap considering the sheer distance you’ll be travelling. This is most popular for the east coast, but you can also get tickets which start in Melbourne in the south, or Alice Springs in the centre. I’d recommend buying your ticket ahead of peak season, to keep costs down. Mine cost £213 (about $360), and now the same pass has gone up to $385.
Ultimately, while Greyhounds are cheap, driving is cheaper – and importantly, more flexible. Renting is an option, but unless you’re travelling for a very limited time, buying will be cheaper in the long run. Check out Facebook pages, Gumtree, and hostel notice boards for adverts.
Be wary, of course – some vehicles will be on their last legs, which is why they’re being sold, but mostly people are just looking to get some cash.
The good thing about travelling this way is that at the end of your journey, or when you settle down, you can sell the vehicle on and get most, if not all, of your money back.
#9 Lift share if you don’t have either of these:
If you’re a bit more flexible with your travelling arrangements, use lift sharing as a way to travel cheaply. Find someone going the same way as you, contribute money towards petrol and the cost of running the car, and you’re sorted. Backpacking Australia alone is always going to cost more – so find some pals to go with!
There are a fair few ways of doing this:
This site is dead easy to use. Just type in where you’re going from and to, and whether you’re driving or asking for a lift. There’s also a section where you can check out any campervan relocation deals that are currently on too – and sign up for email alerts too!
Very similar to Coseats, Hop Hop Ride also has a helpful map feature so you can see where lifts are currently being offered. If the ride you’re looking for isn’t there, you can set up an alert so you’ll get an email when something matches your plan.
#12 Australia RideShare Facebook group
Created by Hop Hop Ride, this Facebook group is updated regularly with people wanting lifts or offering them. It’s a closed group, so you have to request to join it. Do it sooner rather than later if you’re in a hurry for a ride, as they can take a while to accept you!
Once again, Gumtree is a great option for finding transport – whether buying a car, or trying to find a lift. It’s easy to post an ad or find someone selling in your area.
#14 Campervan or car relocation deals can save you a bundle
There are loads of camper van and car rental companies in Oz, because it’s such a popular way to get around. While hiring them out can set you back quite a bit, if you snag a good relocation deal it’s an incredibly cheap way to travel.
Relocation basically means that the company needs their vehicle moving from one place to another. For as little as $1 a day, as well as getting some free money towards petrol (usually against receipts), you can travel between the big cities if you’re a bit flexible with your time. Often there will be quite a tight time-frame between places, but it’s worth it for what you save. A good tip is to sign up to get alerts when vehicles for your chosen route come up. Try checking out these sites:
#15 Hippie camper
Grab a cute flowered camper from Hippie Campers’ relocation page. They also have vans in New Zealand and America – in case you’re planning a trip there too!
Jucy tend to have fewer relocation deals, but it’s still worth taking a look at! They update their list daily, but don’t have an email alert list.
Apollo do have a waiting list that you can join if you’re looking for a specific route. You can also follow them on Twitter for live updates! Again, they also have vehicles elsewhere – in New Zealand and the US.
# 18 Transfer Car
This is an umbrella organisation, working in conjunction with big rental companies such as Britz and Hertz to get their vehicles back to where they are needed. Transfer car tends to have quite a large selection of vehicles – cars and campers – because it takes deals from multiple companies.
#19 Don’t discount flying as an option
Tiger Air and Jetstar are the two main budget airlines here in Oz. While flying may seem a pricey option, it can be worth it for the convenience. Sign up to their emails for price alerts and sale offers and you might just bag yourself a bargain.
#20 Get yourself a public transport card in the big cities
The Go card in Queensland, the Opal card in New South Wales, and the Myki card in Melbourne are similar to Oyster cards in London. There is a small purchasing fee for each card, but you make it up within a few journeys with the discount you get. This tip works especially well if you’re staying for a while. Travel off-peak and you stand to save even more! Bear in mind, though, that Melbourne has a free tram zone in the centre, so if you’re sticking to the middle you may not need the Myki card.
Finding Cheap Accommodation
#21 Choose a hostel either near the bus stop or with a free shuttle
If you choose a hostel you can get to easily, you won’t have to waste money on a taxi or bus! Simple. To be fair, most hostels I’ve come across fit in to one of the above categories, but still – it’s worth making sure.
#22 Buy a tent and stay for free
There are loads of free campsites around Oz, particularly in national park areas. As hostels tend to cost around $25AUD per night, staying for free will save you a bundle! This is, of course, particularly useful if you have your own transport.
If you’re planning a road trip, check out my awesome guide right here!
However, some hostels also do cheaper rents for people to camp, if they have the facility. If you’re lucky, you can often get camping gear thrown in when buying a camper, or you might even get a tent for free from a campsite if you happen to be in the right place at the right time.
#23 Use the Wiki Camps app
Camping in Australia is a definite must-do, and the WikiCamps app is unbelievably helpful for this. It’s basically a huge database which helps you find campsites, points of interest, and other places to stay. It crucially lets you know which campsites are free – and you can use it offline, too! It does cost (after 14 days), but for only £4.25 it’s definitely worth it for the money you save.
#24 Camping on the Whitsundays is an option!
As a bonus, not many people know this but you can camp on some of the Whitsunday islands. The permit fee is only $5.50 per night, and you’d get a pretty unique experience out of it. You can even hire camping kits if you don’t have your own equipment. The downside is the faff of getting there. There is just one company running shuttle boats to the islands for campers, for a minimum fee of $65 return. However, if you stay a few days then it’s a darn sight cheaper than booking a boat trip, which can set you back hundreds.
BUT, beware of sand flies!
#25 Working for accommodation is a great way to cut costs
Looooads of hostels down the east coast (and further afield) are always on the lookout for staff. Most places are completely staffed by backpackers, and if you don’t mind travelling slowly this is a great way to save cash. Stay a couple of weeks, do a couple of hours of work a day, and you’ll save hundreds on accommodation costs. Of course, some places will only be looking for long-termers, but it’s always worth asking!
#26 Stay for a week or more and knock down the room price
A lot of hostels will have long-term working guests, which means there is a better rate if you pay per week. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can often get 6 nights for the cost of 7, or similar discounts.
#27 Don’t just stick to Hostelworld
Hostelworld is great, and it probably does have the most comprehensive list of available accommodation out there. However, the prices they put up are often not the cheapest available, and sometimes you incur a booking fee. It’s definitely worth using Hostelworld to find a hostel, and then ringing them directly for the best price.
#28 Air Bnb may come with added benefits
Air Bnb is a popular alternative to staying in hostels, in Oz and elsewhere. It’s particularly good if you’re in an expensive area, or in a group. A whole apartment can be the same price or cheaper than each paying for a dorm. For example, our stay on Magnetic Island worked out at just $32 per night. Compared with the cheapest hostel this was still $2 cheaper – and we got a Balinese-style villa to ourselves!
The other great thing about Air Bnb is that the experience can only be improved by the hosts. Our hosts on Maggie Island had all sorts of equipment that we could borrow for free. They also took us tubing on the back of their boat as an apology for the work being done on the villas while we were there!
Couchsurfing is always mentioned in budget guides, and there’s a reason for that! Not only do you get cheap (or rather, free) accommodation, you also get to meet someone local and get a unique perspective on the place you’re visiting.
Hostel life can work out quite expensive in the long term. If you’re planning on sticking around somewhere, it’s often better value to find a flatshare. Flatmate.com.au offers the chance for people to advertise either accommodation or themselves as a potential flatmate. Aaaand once again, Gumtree can be another way of doing this.
#31 Greyhound Australia have great discounts
If you’ve got a Greyhound pass already, visit one of their stores as soon as you can. They can give you a free bundle of accommodation vouchers to use down the coast.
#32 Check out YHA, Base and Hostel Australia deals
YHA hostels are generally more expensive, but if you want quality accommodation then why not get a membership? Members will get discounts on their stay, and if you’d stay there anyway, you may as well get a cheaper price. Membership costs $25 for a year, or $45 for two. You can also often get discounts on tours and travel with a YHA membership.
Base hostels are a more party-orientated brand, but generally good fun to stay at. If you bulk buy with a 10-night ‘base jumping’ pass, you stand to save a bit. It’s $279AUD for the 10 nights, so if you use it in the more expensive areas such as Magnetic Island and Byron Bay, it works out cheaper. The pass can be used for New Zealand too!
Hostels Australia is an umbrella organisation for some of the best independent hostels in Oz. Membership cards are free from participating hostels, and with them you can save $3 per night. Every little helps!
Food & Drink
#33 Most hostels have a free food box
Because Australia is such an expensive place, most hostels have a kitchen for backpackers to use. Obviously this means you have to carry food from stop to stop, and often people can’t be bothered, so leave stuff behind. Take advantage of this as much as possible! When you arrive somewhere, check out what food is available before you go shopping. Don’t bother buying things like salt and pepper: these nearly always turn up in the free basket.
#34 Shop in supermarkets, and choose carefully
Shopping in supermarkets is an obvious (almost unnecessary) tip. But if you have options about which supermarket to shop in, it can be worth looking into. IGA is more expensive than Woolworths and Coles. Aldi is probably the cheapest overall, particularly for fruit and veg, but also for toiletries. Watch out for offers on different products and try not to be fussy about what veg you’re eating. The prices here are very seasonal!
If you’re in Oz a long time, it’s worth getting a loyalty card for the bonuses. Coles use the Flybuys card, which you can also use in other shops such as Liquorland, and Woolies have their own Woolworths rewards card.
#35 But don’t only shop in supermarkets!
Bear in mind that it can sometimes be cheaper to shop in places other than Woolies and Coles. Small farms sometimes sell fruit by the side of the road, and many towns will have a weekly local market. For things like fruit and veg, this can save you a few dollars.
#36 Drink goon… if you really have to
Ah, goon. Every backpacker in Australia internally shudders when they hear that word. However, needs must, and boxed wine is by far the cheapest way of drinking in Oz. Sadly, beers are expensive here. But, as a bonus, the goon bag makes a great makeshift pillow!
Though expensive for some staples, both of these ubiquitous corner shops can be a source of some bargains if you time it right. For a start, both have the cheapest coffee around (not the best, but it’ll do). At $1 or $2 you can’t really say no!
#38 Frozen drinks are one of the cheapest treats there are!
If you’re really strapped for cash, to the point where you can’t even treat yo’self without debate, frozen slushies are a guilt-free option. For as little as 80 cents you can grab one from Night Owl, or McDonald’s only charge $1 for a large. Worth a look!
#39 Head to the Reject Shop for cheap sun cream
Of course, supermarkets have some cheap own-brand sun creams, but if you’re after a reputable brand then definitely try the Reject Shop. You can get 500ml Banana Boat factor 30 or 50 for just $10AUD!
#40 Check out the local op-shop for clothes
This will be especially helpful if you’re looking for fancy dress clothes, or are just after some crappy work clothes. For example, on big farms you’ll often need a collared shirt for work – so check out the op shop for a bargain! (An op-shop is like a charity shop in England).
#41 Facebook marketplace can have some bargains
Facebook’s marketplace function can really be worth a browse! This is best if you’re looking for opportunistic steals – it could take you a while to find something specific. There are also often cars for sale on here, but be a bit wary of their condition.
#42 Talk to your hostel!
This may come naturally to some, but it’s still worth a mention. Talk to the receptionist of your hostel about your plans for the day, and you never know what deals you might be able to grab. Hostels often get vouchers and extras from companies, which the regular traveller might not. In Port Douglas we got a free ferry ticket for the Daintree, and in Surfers Paradise we got $10 cinema vouchers. Definitely worth asking!
#43 Cinemas have cheap deals – don’t pay full price!
There’s are multiple ways of getting money off cinema tickets, but even without signing up to stuff you can get a cheaper price. Event Cinemas have Cheap Tuesdays, so without any prior planning you can save a bit of cash. If you have a student card you can also get money off the full price. I paid $13.50 instead of $17 in Port Macquarie, for example.
#44 Book big trips all together through an agency
Perhaps the biggest saving tip I can give is to try and book all of your big activities through an agency. If you’re doing the East Coast, this will usually include the Great Barrier Reef, sailing in the Whitsundays, and touring Fraser Island as a minimum. Though counter-intuitive, generally the more you book the more you stand to save. However, this can be restrictive if you have to book in specific dates beforehand, so be wary of that.
There are a number of travel agencies operating in Australia. Happy Travels and Greyhound are two of the biggest, so at the very least I’d recommend going to both of these to see what they can offer. If you have the will and the patience, take the same itinerary round to a few agencies and see who can get you the best deal. It’s good to have leverage, which can best be done if you already have a figure in mind for your trip from one agency.
#45 Use Groupon!
If you’re looking for a break from the backpacker life, there are heaps of fun things you can do. Spa days, posh meals out, and adventure activities are just some of the things on offer on Groupon. You can genuinely save loads by having a look on their website – so browse away!
#46 Get a student card (if you can)
This tip holds true for most places in the world: student discounts are the best! From cinema trips to bus tickets, discounts of 10% or more make all the difference when you’re away for a long time. If you’re in the UK, you can get an international student card from STA for £12. They last for a year and (bonus!) if you get them just before you graduate, you can continue to get those student deals when you’re no longer studying.
Finding work in Australia
If you’d like some more specific advice for finding work in Australia, head to this post instead.
#47 Gumtree – once again!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Gumtree is great. Often there will be great opportunities posted on here, by employers who are just looking for a couple of people to start soon – especially for farming. It’s well known as a quick method for employers to gain workers, so get on there!
The benefit of this website is that the listings are specifically aimed at backpackers. This means that you won’t get people turning you down just because of the anti-backpacker sentiment that you’ll often find. However, because it’s so casual, the listings are often not taken down even when positions are filled, so be aware of that. The best thing to do is just look at the most recent postings, and be flexible on location if you can.
Seek is self-proclaimed as Australia’s number 1 job website, and they do have thousands of listings to search through. Just type in the area you’re looking at, and don’t forget to select ‘casual’ or ‘temp’ – because obviously the working holiday visa only allows you up to six months of work in one place. Though of course, you could just work full time and leave before your six months is up…
Very similar to Seek, this is an alternative job website that you could use. Sometimes the jobs advertised do overlap, but it’s worth checking out all the options if you’re serious about finding work. Apply for everything and you’ll have the best possible chance! It is also very helpful to have your own transport if you want to find work quicker.
…aaaaand that makes 50! If you liked this post and want some more travel inspiration, why not check out my Ultimate Guide to Your Australian Working Holidayor my Complete Guide to the Australian Second Year Visa?
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